In September of this year, 1740, Lieutenant Philip Saumarez set off with Admiral Anson on what was to become his epic circumnavigation. But these heady early days of the War of Jenkins' Ear, as it was known, very quickly started to turn sour; and perhaps especially for Peter Monamy, now approaching 60. The capture of Porto Bello was the first incident of this war. Writing in 1828, J.T.Smith recalled that No. 20, St Martin's Lane, was a public house called The Porto Bello, and that it had a portrait of Admiral Vernon's ship, "extremely well painted by Peter Monamy, 'the famous Marine-painter', for its sign". Vernon was the hero of the nation at this time, but he went on to make a complete fiasco of his next objective, the capture of Carthagena. The elder Philippe Durell died of plague at Carthagena late in 1740. His brother, Thomas Durell, though undaunted by his wound, must have suffered more than he pretended, for he died off Spithead in 1741, while the Kent was being repaired. [Note, 20/2/05: this Captain Thomas Durell is not to be confused with his nephew, also Captain Thomas Durell, who did not die until 15th May, 1754.]
These deaths must have had their effect on Monamy. With the marine painter Samuel Scott, 20 years his junior, at his heels, he must have begun to feel, as Vertue puts it, that "he had run thro' his Time about 60 years of age being decayd and Infirm some years before his death". He was, however, to survive for another eight. In 1745/6 a series of ten engravings by Pierre Canot after a selection of his earlier paintings was brought out by the print-seller John Bowles. The prints divide naturally into two groups, the first illustrating the times of the day, and the second exploring the moods of the sea. The last of these shows the loss of the Victory near the race of Alderney, in 1744, in which Admiral Sir John Balchen and 1000 seaman lost their lives. The set includes Moonlight and Night & a Ship on Fire, motifs which originate almost exclusively from Monamy, and which were to be repeated well into the next century.
Night & a Ship on Fire: coloured print after pm Peace: Burial at Sea, by jmwt
In 1745 Peter and Hannah's youngest daughter, Ann, married a young local man called Thomas Cornwall. The marriage is recorded on St Valentine's Day at St George's Chapel, Mayfair. This was a fashionable establishment for the performance of marriage ceremonies without licence, publication of banns or consent of parents. Their son was baptised at St Margaret's, Westminster, in 1747. He was named Peter Monamy Cornwall, and one may suppose that this would have pleased the aging painter. This boy became a scholar of Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, entered holy orders and died at Wootton-under-Edge in 1828, having been headmaster of the Grammar School there for forty years. In 1782, and again in 1783, the Reverend Peter Monamy Cornwall published the text of a sermon preached in 1781 at St.James's, Bristol. Among the subscribers were Lord Bulkeley and Lord Hawke. Late in life he took to calling himself Peter Monamy Durell Cornwall; and it is through him that the memory of the artist's name, and that of the Durells, has been preserved to inspire the research that has culminated in this account.
Monamy's death, says Vertue, "happened at his house at Westminster the beginning of Feb 1748/9 --- leaving many paintings begun and unfinished. his works being done for dealers at moderate prices --- kept him but in indifferent circumstances to his end". He was buried at St Margaret's Church on the 7th February. Less than five months later, on 29th June, Mary Monamy, Peter's other surviving daughter, married Francis Swaine at Allhallows, London Wall. Their second child, a boy, was born in 1754 and named Monamy Swaine. Both Francis and Monamy Swaine were marine artists; and it is likely that Francis in fact inherited Monamy's unfinished works via Mary. In 1750 Francis Swaine brought out a print which has an identical composition to Monamy's print of Night & a Ship on Fire, but in which every detail has been changed. This must be connected with posthumous disputes about the copyright on engravings after the dead artist.
This wonderfully lively painting of a Royal Yacht in a strong breeze was brought out as one of a set of four stamps by the Jersey Post Office in 1974, when Monamy was still thought to have been born in Jersey. In about 1980 it was shown and discussed on a BBC television programme devoted to philately, and described as an unusually attractive issue. The presenter remarked that the picture was by "a Flemish artist".
Peter Monamy has the right to be known as the undisputed father of British marine painting. His artistic range is immensely wide, rich and varied. In many respects the specifically English and Romantic elements in his work, and especially his use of colour, anticipate Turner in a way that the work of the van de Veldes does not. For years during his lifetime his name was practically synonymous with the Royal Navy. But his half-century of toil at the painter's craft, as apprentice, freeman, master and has-been, came to a painfully sad end. The backlash against the concept of naval glory, which he had expressed so well, continued on into the 18th century. Smollet had some hard words to say about the horrors of life at sea. Dr Johnson, ever aware of the vanity of human wishes, was to remark in 1759 that "no man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail". He might have had Peter's father, Pierre, in mind. In 1761 the Committee of the Incorporated Society of Artists twice voted ten guineas to Hannah Monamy, from the proceeds of their first exhibition at Spring Gardens. In the chair was Francis Hayman, who had worked with Peter at Vauxhall, 25 years before.
There is one particular painting which seems to sum up all that is best and most poignant about Peter Monamy's life, loyalties, and treatment by posterity. Philip Saumarez returned with Anson, having survived the hardships of circling the world in the Centurion, on 15th June 1744. He had earned a considerable fortune in prize money. In October 1746 he was appointed Captain of the Nottingham, and on the 11th of that month he fell in with the Mars, a French ship somewhat superior in guns and men, and captured her. This prize added to his fortune. In 1747 the Nottingham was prominent in an action under Admiral Hawke, whereby Captain Saumarez attempted to prevent the escape of two French ships of superior force. He was killed by one of the last shots fired in this engagement, to the grief of many. Hawke speaks in his report of "the melancholy account of Captain Saumarez being killed". Admiral Keppel wrote to Lord Anson, "poor Saumarez died like what he was, alongside the Tonnant, much regretted by the whole squadron. I need say no more of him, as your Lordship knew him so well". His body was brought home by his cousin, Philip, later Vice-Admiral Durell, and buried in Plymouth. A monument was erected to his memory in Westminster Abbey. With the money his efforts had earned him, his brother John was enabled to buy back Sausmarez Manor, the ancestral home of the de Sausmarez family in Guernsey, which had been out of their hands since 1543.
Peter Monamy was himself dying, decayed and infirm as we have seen. However, he painted a picture of Captain Saumarez' fight with the Mars, and this painting hangs in Sausmarez Manor today. It is one of the few works which has remained undisturbed since it was painted, and also the only one to find its natural Channel Island home. It may attract little notice from those visitors to the Manor, who pass it by on their sightseeing trips. Another painting of this action now hangs in our National Maritime Museum. This is an expansive canvas, well-finished and painted by a steady hand. Although it lacks the sense of doom and foreboding which emanates from Monamy's version, and the feeling of having been painted from beyond the grave, in most other respects it is identical. This version is by Samuel Scott, "one whose works will charm in every age", wrote Horace Walpole, "but second to van de Velde".